Rueda is one of Spain’s best kept secrets. Instead of creating the stereotypical red Spanish wine, Rueda produces primarily white wines that range from Verdejo to Viura via Sauvignon Blanc.
Located in the north west of Spain, Rueda is situated on the Duero River, roughly on the same latitude as the fellow wine region of Ribera.
The first documentation of wine production in the area dates from around the 11th century, when monastic orders accepted titles from King Alfonso VI and began planting vineyards. The most common grape in the region, Verdejo, originated in North Africa before travelling to southern Spain where it found its home in Rueda.
Its existence remained largely uneventful until, as with much of Europe, the phylloxera louse that devastated the region from the late 1800s to around the 1920s. Prior to this, the region cultivated mostly red wine grapes, but it is believed that the red varieties were pretty much entirely wiped out by the epidemic. Phylloxera destroyed over two thirds of the vines, which had to be grafted onto New World, phylloxera resistant vines, and since then Verdejo has enjoyed pride of place in the region.
In 1980, Rueda became the first D.O. in the Castile y Leon region.
The climate in Rueda is continental with long, hot summers and cold winters and some maritime influence. Temperatures can vary wildly and are either extremely hot, around 30C in summer, or can drop below freezing in the winter. These large variations in temperature help to maintain the balance in sugar and acidity in Rueda wines.
The area has an average annual rainfall of 400mm, about 2,700 sunlight hours per year and a very small possibility of drought.
Located on the plateau of Castilla y Leon, the soil in Rueda is low in nutrients, but rich in lime and iron, meaning that the grape vines can thrive. The soil is also very stony, but with good drainage.
In 2014, Rueda had about 13,000 hectares planted under vine, which was almost entirely white wine grapes.
79% of the wines produced in Rueda are made from Verdejo, 11 percent are from Sauvignon Blanc and five percent a Verdejo/Viura blend. In accordance with the area’s Denominacion de Origen (D.O.), a Rueda Verdejo wine must contain at least 85% of the Verdejo grape.
Rueda accounts for 40% of Spain’s white wine output, it has 69 wineries and over 1,500 growers.
The primary grape in the area is the Verdejo, which originated in North Africa. Verdejo was originally used to make a Sherry-type wine until the 1970s, when, with the help of Frenchman Emile Peynaud, a local winemaking company began to develop fresher wines from the grape.
Verdejo grapes are typically farmed as bush vines in Rueda and harvested at night. This allows the grapes to be brought into the cellar at a lower nighttime temperature, instead of during the higher daytime temperatures, which leads to less oxidation of the juice.
The Verdejo grape is not grown extensively in any other region than Rueda, making its wines even more unique.
Another common grape in Rueda is the Viura, or Macabeo, grape which can also be found in Rioja and Languedoc.
Rueda wines are just as adaptable as the grapes they are made from and fit well in many different circumstances. The wines have citrusy fruit notes, such as tangerine and lemon, as well as apricot and white peach.
Rueda Verdejo wines have more floral notes and something of a herbaceous quality to them.
Fermentation in stainless steel helps to bring forth the fruity notes and the harvesting at cooler temperatures also helps to retain the wine’s acidity and freshness.
One of the notable producers in the region is Cuatro Rayas, the largest cooperative in Rueda. Cuatro Rayas owns about 2,000 hectares of vines and has an output of 15 million bottles annually.
When people think of Spanish wines, they typically imagine full-bodied red wines made from Tempranillo grapes. Bodegas José Pariente, however, stands out for its white wines. Run by a brother and sister duo, these young, up and coming wine makers are proving themselves in a competitive field through dedication, research and belief in their goal.